Internet of Things engineers may be in hot demand by companies looking to add IT talent, but companies face a problem: They cannot find enough of them.
To get around that skills gap, businesses can simplify the technologies that underpin IoT deployments and invest in training their existing IT staff, according to industry experts. That can help businesses overcome hurdles associated with IoT rollouts, extract data from IoT devices and make use of it to gain efficiencies, cut costs and act on insights into customer behavior.
The IoT Skills Gap Is Wide
Gartner estimates that there will be 8.4 billion connected devices in use this year, 3.1 billion of those in businesses. By 2020, the research firm expects there will be 20.4 billion connected devices worldwide, and businesses will need engineers who know how to connect, deploy, manage, analyze and secure them.
The Canonical survey found that data analytics and Big Data skills are most important for IoT workers (75 percent say they are necessary), followed by embedded software development (71 percent), IT security expertise (68 percent) and embedded electronics skills (64 percent).
Yet 35 percent of those surveyed say they are struggling to recruit IT workers skilled in data analytics and Big Data. The other top hard-to-find skill sets for IoT professionals are knowledge of embedded software development (33 percent), embedded electronics (32 percent), expertise in IT security (31 percent) and an understanding of artificial intelligence (30 percent).
The “Defining IoT Business Models” report incorporates original research commissioned by Canonical and conducted by independent industry publication IoT Now. The research surveyed 361 people from the magazine’s database of registered IoT professionals.
“When it comes to the internet of things, the business community is still overcoming a significant skills gap,” says Mike Bell, executive vice president of IoT and devices at Canonical, in a press release. “Many businesses are concerned by their own lack of knowledge and skills within the IoT market and many business leaders are finding themselves running head first into a set of technology and business challenges that they do not yet fully understand.”
IoT brings together multiple IT and technical disciplines, requiring an alchemy of new skills. That is especially difficult for small businesses, where small IT teams often focus on simply keeping the computers, servers and cloud services running.
“Unlike other technological evolutions in the past, IoT is driving the convergence of operational technology and information technology departments,” Sudarshan Krishnamurthi, head of business strategy for Cisco Systems’ educational services, tells CIO Dive. “This requires that individuals gain skills in areas that they weren't previously exposed to.”
Furthermore, each IoT deployment is unique and requires a different set of skills to be successful. “A company developing a wide-area network of beacons for a university might require a combination of wireless connectivity and data analysis experts, while another might be hunting for skilled robotics and AI developers for a logistical robot deployment in warehouses,” Bell tells CIO Dive. “To add to that challenge, each of those skills is extremely sought after and still rare, even beyond the IoT.”
Rethinking Approaches to IoT Talent
“Within the next five years we expect to see IoT technologies built into all aspects of the business environment,” Bell says. “As edge computing brings connected intelligence directly to the shop floor, cloud computing will continue to drive back-end processes across the entire supply chain, for example.”
In that world, as business processes grow increasingly connected, supporting IoT technologies must be easy enough for anyone to manage, monitor and use, regardless of their background, knowledge or personal skill set, Bell says. Some companies are evaluating whether to add IoT-specific jobs to their IT teams. “We’re seeing the beginnings of chief IoT and data officers, IoT business designers and other specially-created titles for IoT specialists,” Bell tells CIO Dive However, that is not common, and many companies are outsourcing their IoT deployments to trusted integrator partners and managed services providers.
“When it comes to IoT, companies may need the skill sets, but are often not in a position to hire at scale, and as the IoT works through its early adoption stage, it may be some time before they see a return on their investment in human capital,” Bell says.
Additionally, he says that businesses need to realize that IoT should not require workers to have such an extensive variety of skills and that companies need to simplify technologies behind IoT.
“What if businesses realized that, instead of looking for nine different skill sets — from data analytics to cloud development to robotics — they simplified the technologies behind the IoT itself?” Bell tells CIO Dive. “What if their IoT technologies were easy enough to develop, deploy and manage with the team they can have, rather than the team they can’t?”
Businesses also need to continually develop their IT teams’ skills to keep pace with a rapidly changing technological environment. “Developing talent truly capable of digital transformation requires not only technology skills, but also business skills to activate optimal business outcomes," Krishnamurthi tells CIO Dive. “The technology in IoT is changing rapidly, and this means that employees must be more flexible than ever in their ability to adapt, learn and grow.”